This is our truth, tell us yours
My gym has communal changing spaces. It was in those spaces that I saw the worst tattoo ever – a man with ‘Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here’ tattooed on his buttocks .I have been desperate before, but in his case, never that desperate. I’ve also heard some horrifically homophobic remarks in that space, and have often wondered why my local authority think I have to get naked in front of other people before going to the gym or showering afterwards. If you want to get people healthier and fitter, not body shaming them in communal changing facilities is a pretty obvious nudge from where I stand.
My favourite swimming pool, owned by the same council, has unisex changing facilities. You go from dry side to wet side via a single door, and get changed in cubicles before going through to the pool. If you need a shower to get the chlorine off afterwards, you shower in your costume, then go back to a cubicle, collecting your clothes from a locker on the way.
If you’re male, and you need a piss, away from home, you’ll be expected to use a communal toilet where you have to expose your genitals at urinals where other men share your lack of privacy. I’m a queer man. I discovered long ago the pleasure and risks of casting your eyes downwards at the trough, and checking to see if the man at the next station was shaking off the drips or having a surreptitious wank.
Communal facilities are a choice, not a necessity, and the idea that such spaces need to be policed in order to prevent predatory behaviour is one of those ideas that seems to make a lot of sense if you don’t really understand predatory behaviour or how to design out crime.
Public toilets work best when they are supervised and informally policed by staff whose job is also to keep the facilities clean and well managed. If you are designing, for instance, a leisure centre, you’ll route the staff access to the pool or the sports hall through the changing room – so that the space is informally supervised by your staff. If you make the changing facilities a cul de sac you’re designing in the potential for crime. Want another example? Public toilets. If the toilets have a lobby or communal area that can’t be observed from outside you’re designing in the potential for crime; the most effective toilets in terms of crime prevention are single user cubicles which include wash hand basins. If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know this stuff, because I’ve written about it before.
So why repeat myself now?
The discussion about the rights of trans people, and the rights of women who think gender is biologically determined by genital configuration, is dominated by the idea that women only spaces need to made safe by excluding the risk that a male predator might pretend to be a woman and invade those spaces.
This may be an interesting ideological point, but it’s a dangerous approach to crime prevention. The exclusionary approach to communal spaces requires someone to document everyone who is allowed into those spaces, and everyone who is excluded. One interesting example from the last thirty years is the use of exclusion orders to keep known hooligans out of football grounds. Banning orders and the like work only so long as the police know who is banned, and have good intelligence on them including identification data that can be used by spotters. Police forces refused to operate a national football fan identity card, and with good reason since they couldn’t understand how it would work, or who would bear the bureaucratic burden.
Trying to ban everyone who is not a woman (according to the definitions of those who believe genital conformation is a reasonable definition of a woman) from women only spaces fails for two reasons. The first is the size of the banned group. The second is the question of who runs the system of issuing permits. Bluntly, who will inspect the genitals of all the women who believe they are entitled to enter women only spaces, and who will arbitrate on the cases where there is doubt?
The fear of crime often involves individuals demanding draconian measures that help them believe they have mitigated the risk of being a victim of crime. Good governance demand a more sensible approach that designs out crime, that builds in privacy and protection, and which don’t present the risk that ideologically inspired oppression lurks behind the well meaning demands that something must be done.
We live in a world in which the right of people to describe themselves as trans should not be contestable. We live ina world where the binary is no longer as simple or as straightforward an answer as it once appeared. The way in which services are delivered for all of us needs to adapt and change to reflect this changed world. Swapping mens’ and womens’ communal spaces for individual safe spaces shouldn’t be difficult – we do this already when we feel like it. If your default response is to demand more regulation, more rules, a process of certifying who is male, who is female, and who is entitled to use each facility, you’re complicating the situation, when private personalized services are the simplest solution.